Ivy Leage Student Graduates to Big-Screen Kinky Girl Roles

Traditionally, the Ivy League has been the early stomping ground for bankers, politicians, and a range of other six-figure professionals. Though it counts amongst its alumni famous names in the humanities and arts, on any campus of the Great Eight you are more likely to find an amateur particle physicist than an actor or actress. Sure, Natalie Portman ’03 shot a few “Star Wars” movies while at Harvard, but she studied Psychology, and the movies trashed George Lucas’ career.

The few examples of Ivy cinematic glory notwithstanding, the overall dearth of our representation (at least in acting) in Hollywood is simply because, despite grand notions of liberal arts, these schools teach obsessive compulsive practicality and pragmatism as the highest and most glorious art of all. In our many lecture halls, one must un-learn the practice of risk-taking for that of cozy financial security. Some lucky few though, like Cornell graduate and actress Carla Gallo, skipped those classes on paper-pushing perfection in favor of greater passions.

If you’ve watched one of Judd Aptow’s brohiem sagas from the past five years, then you probably have seen Carla Gallo. To jog your memory, she played “Toe-Sucking Girl” in “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Period Blood Girl” in “Superbad,” and “Gag Me Girl” in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” More recently you might remember her from Showtime’s “Californication” as Daisy, the utterly endearing pornstar from season two.

Having just read this list, you are probably reacting similarly to how I did when I first read her IMDB filmography. I, too, noticed the trend of her roles, but I was intrigued by the fact that she is an alumnus of Cornell. Had this Ivy Leaguer gone bad or just totally nuts? I decided to talk to Carla Gallo herself and put the whole story together.

Her acting career began almost simultaneously with her undergraduate career when she was cast in David O. Russell’s first acclaimed film, “Spanking the Monkey,” during the summer between her performing arts high school graduation and her first semester at Cornell. When it seemed likely that filming would conflict with her freshman fall, Gallo’s mother told her, “Over my dead body are you not going to school,” and then promptly demanded Russell be finished with Carla by the start of the semester.

“I left the set at 5 am and was at Cornell by 5 pm,” Gallo said. Once “Spanking the Monkey” wrapped, Gallo totally immersed herself in school, majoring in theater and saving Hollywood for after she graduated.

“I don’t want to do anything else [but act],” Gallo said, “but I don’t have the fear other actors have because I got an education, I have this degree, and I know if I have to go into another field, I can.”

After graduating, Gallo made her Aptow connection, co-starring alongside Seth Rogen in Aptow’s TV show, “Undeclared.”

“On ‘Undeclared’ I was actually the only person who had gone to college,” Gallo noted. “Here we are doing this college show, and no one had actually really been, and it was so bizarre to me.”

Aptow, not usually known for creating leading female roles, kept his loyalty to those around him at the launch of his career, and has given Carla some of his more memorable female characters (for example, the girl who bleeds on Jonah Hill in “Superbad”). Despite the potential embarrassment that might come with such roles, Gallo has enjoyed greater visibility from these projects.

“Now it’s like, ‘Oh! You’re the girl!” Gallo recalls of her more recent auditions.

Gallo has also been a regular on HBO’s “Carnivale” (as a stripper) and Showtime’s “Californication” (as a porn star).

“Here I am, having gone from stripper to porn—porn actress—and [my friends] are like ‘Why you?’.... I’m not that girl. I’m the girl next door, not the sex symbol.”

Gallo guesses her “good girl” appearance and personality on screen creates an interesting tension between expectation and reality. And her sweet-looking, gross/kinky-girl casting has followed her. But exposing it all turned out to be less difficult during “Californication,” leading Gallo to think, “Oh my god, I have lost my mind because I am totally comfortable doing this.”

When I asked her how her friends and family felt about her roles, Gallo said that while her friends were excited for her, her family had difficulty adjusting. Her father respected the art of her roles, commenting that he “would much rather that [she] were doing this than be in a bathing suit on Baywatch.” Her mother, on the other hand, “has major problems with [‘Californication’]” and was unwilling to tell other relatives about the racy role right away. As for her future on the show, Gallo said, “I don’t know how long the pornstar who breaks up a marriage gets to stay in the picture. I’m not sure it will be a happily ever after.”

Nonetheless, her major role in “Californication” will probably be a springboard for her acting career. She has an upcoming role in Aptow’s “I Love You Man,” though she says going forward, “What I really honestly want is just to be working steadily... I would love to just be on a great TV show and have it run for awhile.”

I have to say I admire her dedication to her passion and her commitment to taking the acting leap even after graduating from the pragmatic atmosphere of one of the country’s top schools. No one, except someone who truly loved acting, would ever take the kind of risks Carla Gallo takes when she is on-screen.

Whether she is asking to be gagged, sucking Steve Carell’s toe, or baring it all in “Vaginatown,” Carla Gallo is doing the only thing on-screen she ever wants to do: act. And her Ivy background will always be a “badge of honor,” allowing her to be “the oddly funny, and intelligent, porn actress,” with definite emphasis on “intelligent.” —Columnist Andrew F. Nunnelly can be reached at nunnelly@fas.harvard.edu.